Commonwealth and Council

Art Basel Hong Kong 2021

Carrie Yamaoka and Kang Seung Lee


Commonwealth and Council’s project for Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 enacts a queer historicity surrounding the legacy of AIDS—bringing to the surface artists’ and activists’ complicated experiences of illness, loss, and resistance. The dialogue between works by Kang Seung Lee and Carrie Yamaoka sets up a site of mourning and reflection through images both oblique and documentary. Lee’s graphite redrawings of photographs and Yamaoka’s cast resin paintings skirt the boundaries of presence and absence, rendering the body a fugitive subject: a ghost. Lee digitally obscures the figure in photographs by Tseng Kwong Chi, Peter Hujar, and David Wojnarowicz, then recreates the images in graphite with the bodies and faces replaced with puffs of smoke—evoking the liminal, fleeting status of the queer body, especially in the aftermath of AIDS. Lee’s drawings of Tseng are based on the Hong Kong-born American photographer’s Expeditionary Self-Portrait series, in which Tseng photographed himself at well-known tourist sites dressed in a Zhongshan “Mao” suit. Lee’s laborious reproductions comprise a cross-temporal identification— putting himself in Tseng’s place as a way to delve the unique historical effecement of Asian-American queer bodies. Another cycle of drawings, based on Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz’s portraits of each other, commemorates the afflicted body through fragmentary implication—Wojnarowicz’s hand and feet, the crumpled shape of a blanket around Hujar’s absent body—simultaneously conjuring intimacy and loss. Tseng, Hujar, and Wojnarowicz all died of AIDSrelated complications. Along with Nancy Brooks Brody, Joy Episalla, and Zoe Leonard, Carrie Yamaoka is a founding member of the queer art collective fierce pussy. Concerns of queer visibility, proximity to the AIDS epidemic, and the precarity of the body manifest in her solo practice. Like Lee, Yamaoka’s work obliquely references the human figure through partial elision. The viewer’s spectral form ripples over Yamaoka’s reflective paintings, warped by their inconstant materiality: mylar film and black vinyl, cast in resin and often frotted, ripped, or peeled into sheets. Yamaoka’s pieces are almost negative images of Lee’s drawings, dis-figuring the body through distortion rather than erasure. Yet each artist’s work harbors a crucial ephemerality—Yamaoka’s ghostly reflections are in constant flux, each encounter creating a new impression and experience; there is kinship in the transient image, a sort of queer time, marked by the passage of fleeting moments and lives, and a retention of the site, if not the subject. Both artists premise the body, then complicate or refuse its figuration, like a joke with no punchline. Between them arises a vital margin of indeterminacy and nonbeing, inviting viewers to inhabit voids left by absent subjects. What ultimately remains is the residue of history—losses carved out by public and private lives, aftermaths of bereavement, portraits without subjects. Through these disappearances, Lee and Yamaoka give shape to the often vanishing, suppressed memories of queer lives and bodies stigmatized by illness. With unsparing totality, AIDS ravaged not only the collective body of those whose lives it devastated, but seemingly all efforts to inscribe its legacies into the public consciousness. What, then, endures?

Kang Seung Lee (b. 1978, Seoul, South Korea; lives and works in Los Angeles) received an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts (2015). Lee has had solo exhibitions and projects at 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica, CA (2020); Hapjungjigu, Seoul, South Korea (2019); One and J. Gallery, Seoul, South Korea (2018); Artpace, San Antonio (2017); Baik Art, Los Angeles (2017); Los Angeles Contemporary Archive (2016); Pitzer College Art Galleries, Claremont (2015); Centro Cultural Border, Mexico City, Mexico (2012). Selected group exhibitions have been held at Gwangju Biennial 2021; Asia Cultural Center, Gwangju,Korea (2020); Daelim Museum, Seoul, Korea (2020); Palm Springs Art Museum, CA (2019); PARTICIPANT INC., New York (2019); Canton Gallery, Guangzhou, China (2018); LA><ART, Los Angeles (2017); DiverseWorks, Houston (2017); and Centro Cultural Metropolitano, Quito, Ecuador (2016). Lee is a recipient of the 18th Street Arts Center Artist Lab Residency (2020),  California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists (2019), the Rema Hort Mann Foundation grant (2018), and Artpace San Antonio International Artist-in-Residence program (2017). Lee’s work is currently on view in Close to You at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA through January 2022. A solo exhibition of his work will open at Gallery Hyundai, Seoul in 2021, and he will participate in the New Museum Triennial, opening October 27, 2021.

Carrie Yamaoka (b. 1957, Glen Cove, NY; lives and works in New York, NY) received a BA at Wesleyan University in 1979 and attended the Tyler School of Art, Rome, Italy from 1977-78. Recent solo exhibitions were held at Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles (2020); Ulterior Gallery, New York (2019); Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle (2019); and Lucien Terras, New York (2017). Yamaoka has been featured in group exhibitions at Ulterior Gallery, New York (2021); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2020); Transmitter, New York (2019); Albertz Benda, New York (2019); PARTICIPANT INC, New York (2019); Kunstverein Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin (2019); Leslie-Lohman Museum, New York (2018, 2017); Fondation Ricard, Paris (2018); Galerie Crevecoeur, Marseille (2018); Center for Contemporary Art Futura, Prague (2016); and MoMA PS1, Queens (2015). She has received grants and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (2019), Anonymous Was A Woman Foundation (2017), Rutgers Center for Innovative Printmaking (1990), and Art Matters (1988), and has participated in residencies at Painting Space 122, New York (2009); Fenenin El-Rahhal/Nomadic Artists Working Artists’ Summit, Egypt (2006); Braziers International Artists Workshop, Oxfordshire, UK (1998, 1995); and Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, New York (1986). She is a founding member of the queer art collective fierce pussy. Yamaoka’s work was featured in arms ache avid aeon: Nancy Brooks Brody / Joy Episalla / Zoe Leonard / Carrie Yamaoka: fierce pussy amplified, Chapters 1- 4 at Beeler Gallery, Columbus College of Art and Design, Ohio and Chapter 5 at Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, PA. A new chapter of the ongoing project is slated to open in February 2022 at Palais de Tokyo, Paris.